2009 Suzuki Alto - First Steer
The schedule said I needed to be at Brisbane airport at 9am, it was 8.45am and I had just missed my exit. This would be understandable if Brisbane wasn't my home town. I'm definitely not a Monday person.
Finally at 9.20am and I arrived at Suzuki Queensland headquarters to begin the drive day in a new Suzuki Alto.
There were at least four different colours to pick from and I'm a new age man who enjoys a chai latte once in a while but surely they wouldn't make me drive a pink one? They did.
Perhaps it was my punishment for being late. Either way my Twitter status was promptly updated to reflect my new pink ride and off I went.
I have nothing against pink cars, so long as they are Italian and powered by a twin-turbo V10 engine. Alas, here I was, inside a "hot" pink Suzuki Alto propelled by a mighty 1.0-litre engine with 50kW of power and 90Nm of torque (less than pretty much any new 1.0-litre motorbike). It was going to be an interesting day.
The drive program consisted of going from Brisbane airport to the University of Queensland, then to Indooroopilly Golf Course followed by a trip to Red Cliff and back to Brisbane airport. Roughly about 130km of inner city roads mixed with highway driving.
The men from Suzuki were adamant that we must experience the car in real world conditions and that is exactly what the 1.5 hour drive provided.
There is something to be said about Suzuki, they are a brand that has quietly gone about producing great cars and not boasting about it. As I mentioned in my Suzuki Swift review, there seems to be more Swifts on the road than Commodores and Falcons put together. Well that may soon all change with the Alto set to take centre stage.
Suzuki claims the Alto will get a combined fuel economy figure of 4.8 litres of 95RON fuel per 100km, which as I will mention later, is relatively inaccurate.
The Alto is a no nonsense car, if you're after something that will get you from A to B without trouble and as cheaply as possible, I'd be surprised if you could find a better car. Specially one that starts at $12,490*.
Front seats can easily accommodate two large adults, rear leg room is lacking but is usable by two adults for short journeys, I wouldn't recommend four adults in the Alto for long distance drives.
The base model comes equipped with six airbags (dual front airbags, side airbags and head-protecting side curtains), anti-lock brakes, Electronic Brake Distribution, electric front windows, remote control door locks, air-conditioning and a reasonable stereo that will play MP3s and has an auxiliary input socket.
Suzuki Australia says it has fought hard to get the highest level of safety put into every Australian delivered Alto. The Australasian New Car Assessment (ANCAP) testing program has given the Alto a four-star rating, which for a car so tiny, is pretty good.
There are two variants for the Alto, the first is the GL, which comes with the already mentioned features for $12,490*.
The range topping GLX ($14,490*), adds electronic stability control, front fog lamps, colour-coded exterior mirrors; tachometer, six speaker sound system, seat height adjustment on the drivers seat and alloy wheels.
Both variants will be available with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, which adds $2000.
Technicalities aside, I was in the first car to head off towards the University of Queensland, bright pink and with an attitude - we were on a mission. I'll admit, I'd never driven anything with such a small engine before so I was expecting it to feel relatively ordinary.
With only 50kW, acceleration is nothing to write home about, 0-100km/h takes 14 seconds in the manual (17 seconds in auto) but you'd never pick it because it really doesn't feel that slow if you keep it in the right gear.
Suzuki believes they will sell an equal number of automatics and manuals, and although I didn't get to drive an auto, I suspect the manual would be the better choice if you want quicker acceleration.
My co-driver and I decided that given this is meant to be a real world test, it would be best if we drove the Alto like 18-year old teenagers, air-conditioning on, stay in low gears for power and try and use as much fuel as possible.
Some other journalists were turning off the engine at lights to save fuel, we would have none of that, the aim was to try and use about 6-litre per 100km instead of the 4.8-litres specified.
Before I give you the final fuel economy figure, I want to discuss some other aspects of the Alto. The car is produced in India but is based on Japanese designs and components, so I would not be worried about quality control (given how simple the car is, not much can go wrong regardless!).
The ride is pretty much how you'd expect it, easy to steer with a great turning circle (4.5 metres), rather stable for its tiny wheels and you really can't complain about cornering agility, given the price.
There are a few things worth mentioning though, firstly on the base model the boot doesn't open from the inside, you must use the key (so the car must be off). Speaking of the boot, it isn't really that big (but then again, when have you ever really needed a big boot?)
Like the Suzuki Jimny, if both driver and passenger are tall adults, the gear stick tends to get a little too close to the passenger's leg meaning you'll be making contact when changing gear. Nevertheless you can quickly get used to this and adjust.
Given our drive route included numerous hills, I quickly learnt that I had to be in the right gear to make it to the top, there is just not enough torque to pull you up a hill in third regardless of how much of a run up you get. Again, this is a characteristic of the car that any buyer will adjust to after just a few days.
So, about 130 kilometres later and we were anxiously tallying up the fuel economy figures. The test was conducted as effectively as possible, before we left, all cars were filled up with fuel to the point were there was literally no more room. We would then refill them to the same level and measure how many litres of fuel each cars used.
The man from Suzuki asked me how many litres I thought I'd used for the 130km journey, about eight litres I replied, (giving the 6.0L/100km rating we were aiming for). So you can now imagine the look on my face when the fuel figures came out, we'd used 4.55 litres of fuel, giving a fuel economy figure of just over 3.5L/100km.
I sat there for a few minutes, admiring the results, I didn't really know what to say.
After all, what can you say when you've tried your best to get 6L/100km and all you could do was 3.5? I didn't know if I should've been disappointed or happy. I was just amazed. With a 35 litre fuel tank, that actually means you can do around 1000km without stopping!
Well, there you have it folks. I'm happy to claim this is the most fuel efficient car I've ever driven, not only does it beat the new Mini Cooper Diesel, but it also beats the brand new super-complicated Toyota Prius.
No doubt CarAdvice will do a full review on this car in due time, it officially goes on sale August 1, but in the mean time, if you're after a small car that will get you from A to B safely and as cheaply as possible, go give the new Suzuki Alto a go.